The purpose of this study was to correlate the fasting enterohepatic circulation (EHC) of bile acids with the migrating myoelectric complex. Four dogs were surgically provided with a functional cholecystectomy, a duodenal cannyla for direct vision cannulation of the common bile duct, and 12 bipolar electrodes implanted from stomach to terminal ileum. Bile was collected in equal-volume, timed aliquots over 6 to 10 h. Aliquots were sampled and either returned to the duodenum for study of the intact EHC, or collected and retained in order to study the time course of the bile acid pool washout. In the washout experiments boluses of radiolabeled taurocholic acid were instilled into the duodenum before and after duodenal phase III of the migrating motor or myoelectric complex (MMC). In another group of experiments the bile acid pool was washed out and during a continuous duodenal infusion of taurocholic acid bile was collected to study the pattern of hepatic secretion. Results: (a) In all experiments, a single broad peak of bile flow and bile acid secretion occurred at 35-55% of the MMC migration time. At this time the MMC had migrated to a point 70-85% of the distance along the small intestine. (b) During bile acid pool washout the peak of bile flow and bile acid secretion occurred with the distal migration of the first MMC and then bile flow and bile acid secretion rates decreased to a minimum and stabilized. (c) In bile acid pool washout experiments the radiolabeled bile acids instilled into the duodenum prior to duodenal phase III were secreted and peaked with peak endogenous bile acid secretion. The secretion of radiolabeled bile acids instilled into the duodenum after duodenal phase III was delayed until the subsequent cycle of the MMC. 88% of the bile acid pool collected over 6 h was secreted during the distal migration of the first MMC (2.4 ± 0.4 H). (d) After bile acid pool washout and during continuous duodenal infusion of taurocholic acid, hepatic bile flow and bile acid secretion continued to fluctuate with the same pattern observed with the EHC intact. Conclusions: (a) In the fasting state, the transport of intestinal bile acids to the liver is pulsatile rather than continuous and is determined by the MMC. Maximum hepatic secretion occurs when phase III of the MMC propels the intraluminal bile acid pool to its site of absorption in the distal small bowel. (b) The 'housekeeping' action of the MMC is very efficient and clears 88% of the 6-h washout bile acid pool in one pass.